Connections – January 3, 2012

“Despots themselves do not deny that freedom is excellent; only they desire it for themselves alone, and they maintain that everyone else is altogether unworthy of it.” —Alexis de Tocqueville

Vol. 9, No 1

The Nation’s economy is not akin to your household’s economics. Yet that is the misleading metaphor leading to a false analogy that far-right pundits would have you accept. Deferring maintenance on one’s home may be a way to help family finances when weathering an economic downturn; putting off repairs may little affect one’s quality of life. But building equity in your home is not the same as increasing equity in a nation; improving one’s home will not add to your income or your ability to pay back the costs of improvements. On the other hand, strengthening the nation’s infrastructure, adding to our common wealth – improved highways, stabilized power grid, expanded internet capacity, and an improved educational system – all have a direct and positive effect on the nation’s productive earning capacity. That can, according to leading economists, create jobs while enabling the country to pay off its cost and reduce the national Debt.

Economic historians remind us it was the great public investments in infrastructure from the 1950s through the 1970s that made us a singular world power, the most advanced nation on earth. That taxpayer-funded industrial and business foundation helped lift the economy as businesses’ and workers’ incomes rose, enabling us to become the richest and most equal society in the world (CEO’s incomes were 40 times those of workers –  now CEOs take home 340 times workers’ pay).

When President Reagan introduced his divisive “government is the problem” ideology, we began to drift away from our common commitment to each other. We substituted a privatized “immediate gratification” philosophy to replace our long-term public purpose investment policy. His cut-taxes mantra was sold to both parties and helped frame the political discourse at all levels of government. As local taxes were cut, local schools lost their funding and programs atrophied. Maintenance for roads was cut and transportation systems fell into disrepair. At the state level, higher education support funding was slashed, transferring the cost of college to students and their families, leaving the poor behind. The nation began producing an under-educated workforce unprepared to grow with the increasing demands of our new knowledge-based economy.

In this new year, as the politics of the Presidential election close in, it’s time to reclaim our interest in the “common good” with initiatives that make us whole again, stronger than the arithmetic sum of individual persons, cities, states or private interests. Yet none of the current gaggle of Presidential intenders, based on their debate assertions, would even consider such an initiative. They offer no suggestions to protect, much less broaden the vital social safety net necessary for an American renaissance – nothing to benefit other than their own 10 Percent.

Where are Congressional proposals to put American workers back to work rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure? We should be investing in ourselves – now, not further subsidizing  a corporate plutocracy. Every time we auction off parts of our common wealth, the goods that we inherited from our forbearers – land, above and below ground; water; clean air and air waves — we give away a part of our legacy to our children. Portions of our natural inheritance are being monetized, marketed to the highest bidder whose interest is personal/corporate profit, not the welfare of all our citizens and their legacy. It’s time to take our country back, to invest in us.

This is the time to be heard. The Presidential nominating process is under way (you will know the results of the first round of caucus/primaries shortly after I send this letter). You will have many opportunities to talk with, write to or contribute to politicians at all levels in this election season. Make sure your voice is heard. Candidates at all levels are listening.

Speaking of listening, once again I’m including the questions I asked last week. I invite you to give me your opinions about potential areas for initiatives to take the country (and perhaps the global economy with which we’re deeply connected) out of our depressed status. Please rate the following five areas for possible governmental action to restore the economy – and our nation’s status among the leaders of the global world.

  1. Economic stimulus, creating jobs:
    1. upgrade the nation’s infrastructure
    2. create a civilian conservation corps
    3. expand Americorps program for all youths
  2. Investment in People:
    1. improve/expand basic and higher education
    2. enhance and extend health care to all
    3. cultivate programs to promote social cohesion
  3. Social Safety Net:
    1. stabilize Social Security
    2. strengthen Unemployment Insurance benefits
    3. restore human and social service support systems
  4. Invest in the Economy:
    1. bolster technological access for all
    2. support and expand basic scientific research
    3. increase job training programs for new technologies
  5. Regulations
    1. provide necessary environmental protections of earth, air and water
    2. regulate banks so they act as utilities, not speculators
    3. support domestic security

Please send me an e-mail ( with your ranking of the five areas based on your order of priority (1 most important to 5, least important) for rebuilding America’s integrity, first, for its people, then second, as a leader among the world of nations. I would also appreciate your comments on why you chose as you did. Or maybe you want to make your own list, and give me your critique of this list (what’s missing?) with your additions. I will compile your answers and report back over the next few weeks. Thanks.

For this week’s Moment of Mirth, check here.

This Week’s Report:
Smarter, Better, Leaner, Greener
12 New Year’s Resolutions for the 112th Congress in 2012
Sally Steenland, 12/13/2011, Center for American Progress

Special Tribute:
The Progressive Honor Roll of 2011
John Nichols, 12/21/2011, The Nation

Connections articles this week include:
The Damage of 2011
The Editors, 12/30/2011, The New York Times
After they took power in January, the hard-line Republicans who dominate the House reached for a radical overhaul of American government, hoping to unravel the social safety net, cut taxes further for the wealthy and strip away regulation of business. Fortunately, thanks to defensive tactics by Democrats, they failed to achieve most of their agenda.

But they still did significant damage in 2011 to many of the most important functions of  government, and particularly to investments in education, training and transportation that the country will need for a sound economic recovery.

Also See: “Tax Gift to the Rich,”  John Aloysius Farrell, 01/02/2012, Nation of Change
Montana High Court Says ‘Citizens United’ Does Not Apply in Big Sky State
Steven Rosenfeld, 01/01/2012, AlterNet
Montana’s Supreme Court has issued a stunning rebuke to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 that infamously decreed corporations had constitutional rights to directly spend money on ‘independent expenditures’ in campaigns.

The Montana Court vigorously upheld the state’s right to regulate how corporations can raise and spend money after a secretive Colorado corporation, Western Tradition Partnership, and a Montana sportsman’s group and local businessman sued to overturn a 1912 state law banning direct corporate spending on electoral campaigns.

Also See: “Has America’s Stolen Election Proces Finally Hit Prime Time?
Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman, 12/30/2011, Common Dreams

Federal judge accuses SEC of misleading court
David S. Hilzenrath, 12/29/2011, The Washington Post
A federal judge who has accused the Securities and Exchange Commission of negotiating weak settlements in Wall Street cases on Thursday accused the agency of misleading a federal appeals court.

The judge and the SEC are locked in an extraordinary battle over how the government should police financial fraud, and just when it seemed that the conflict could not get more contentious, Thursday’s development added a dimension.

Rakoff, who presides over major Wall Street cases from his bench in Manhattan, has been pushing the SEC to stop negotiating settlements in which firms accused of securities fraud neither admit nor deny wrongdoing. In a recent case involving a Citigroup mortgage deal in which investors allegedly lost more than $700 million, he rejected a settlement under which Citigroup would pay $285 million, saying it was “neither fair, nor reasonable, nor adequate, nor in the public interest.”

Also See: “Still Waiting for Cleanup in Foreclosure Mess,”
Marian Wang, 12/27/2011, ProPublica

A brainpower revolution
Eugene Robinson, 12/26/2011, The Washington Post
This is a moment when policymakers should be thinking big, not small. History will little note nor long remember that the payroll tax holiday was extended for two months rather than 12. The complex and difficult questions we’re avoiding, however, may haunt us through the century.

Let me be clear that I applaud President Obama and the Democrats for the political victory they won last week. The impact was to weaken the influence of the most reactionary and clueless faction in Congress – the Tea Party Republicans – and strengthen the hand of both progressives and pragmatic conservatives. This can only be a good thing.

But let me also be honest: It’s crazy to have spent so much brainpower and energy on a skirmish that was purely tactical, while blithely ignoring the enormous challenges we face.

Also See: “Keynes Was Right, ” Paul Krugman, 12/29/2011, The New York Times

The 12 Most Hopeful Trends to Build on in 2012
Sarah van Gelder, 12/31/2011, Nation of Change
The viral spread of the Occupy Movement took everyone by surprise. Last summer, politicians and the media were fixated on the debt ceiling, and everyone seemed to forget that we were in the midst of an economic meltdown-everyone except the 99 percent who were experiencing it.

Today, people ranging from Ben Bernake, chair of the Federal Reserve, to filmmaker Michael Moore are expressing sympathy for the Occupy Movement and concern for those losing homes, retirement savings, access to health care, and hope of ever finding a job.

This uprising is the biggest reason for hope in 2012. The following are 12 ways the Occupy Movement and other major trends of 2011 offer a foundation for a transformative 2012.

Also See: “Fighting the Good Fight,” Norman Lear, 12/30/2011, Common Dreams

I look forward to your comments and suggestions – Contact me at
Please feel free to forward this to a friend.

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